A few comments I recently read about Barry Goldwater and the Civil Rights act reminded me that personal destruction via accusations of racism are a tactic that goes back decades. Goldwater voted against the version of the Civil Rights Act that ultimately became law. His reported reasons had to do with the constitutionality of parts of the Act, reasons I won’t delve into here other than saying that they are fully in line with libertarian and Constitutional thinking. I’ve blogged here in the past that, while I believe the public accommodation principle imposed on private businesses was and remains a violation of individual liberty, I think that the CRA was the right thing to do. This is a less principled position than Goldwater’s, of course, but neither my nor his views would, by any honest assessment, qualify as “racist.” By (again) honest measures, Goldwater wasn’t a racist, but politics can be utterly lacking in nuance in such matters, and a vote against something as momentous as the CRA, no matter how principled, will be seized upon by opportunistic opponents for political leverage.

Trump recently committed a major unforced error in tweeting the four progressive Congresswomen that have been dubbed “the squad” that they should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Gee, imagine that, dumbassery from the Untethered Orange Id’s Twitter feed, and it sparked a well-deserved backlash. The statement is racist on its face, and I don’t care if you parse it otherwise, if you think it a 3D-chess provocation, or if you fear that criticizing it and him will give his foes, people you abhor and have great fear might come to power, ammunition and moral high ground. It was offensive. It’s the rankest “America, love it or leave it!” jingoism.

And, to repeat, it was a major unforced error. This “squad” has been scorching earth and burning bridges, even within its own party, and has created an internecine fight that has been and would be a boon to Trump and the Republicans in the build-up to election season.

Now? It’s a sound bite that whoever gets the Democratic nomination will get to play time and time again, to portray Trump as a racist. Is he a racist? As with all things Trump, there’s evidence to suggest that he is, and evidence to suggest that he isn’t. The statement itself, though… if you’re engaging in pretzel logic to un-racist-ify it, take a step back. This isn’t a Goldwater-esque stance on principle. It’s a firebomb based on either inexcusable error or deliberate deceit – three of the four women were born here, and it’s rotten.

And, he’s paying a price. The House voted to condemn Trump’s “racist comments,” after (or despite) a furor that saw Speaker Nancy Pelosi rebuked for violating the lower chamber’s rules of discourse. The public image of the “women of color” has been bolstered, even though they remain arrogant scolds and carnival barkers, and even though at least one of them has made statements as racist on their face as Trump’s. No, this isn’t whataboutism, this is a recognition that Trump has forfeited a piece on the board for no gain whatsoever, and given his opposition a magic bullet. Now and forever after, all they have to do when they want to inform the voter that Trump is a racist is trot out this tweet. Is he actually a racist? He has less of a defense than Goldwater had, but the fact of it is secondary to the politics of it. He gave his foes, who could themselves be tagged bigots based on their own statements, a giant tinsel and bow-festooned gift, and if they’re smart, they’ll run with it all the way to the election. The “racist” tag can be used over and over and over again, based solely on this one tweet.

I’ve seen high-fives from his ardent supporters, who think this was deliberate and tactical, and who’ve been applauding his ability to provoke an extreme response. One such is Scott Adams’ tweet “There’s no way you can get the Dems to endorse Antifa, Al Qaeda, and Venezuela all in the same week… Checkmate, and he only needed to sacrifice four pawns.” The Atlantic columnist David Frum recognizes that Trump is a baiter, and that the Dems constantly take that bait. I’ve seen memes that “refute” accusations of racism by listing “good” things that Trump has said or done. As I already noted, there’s evidence on both sides. But, such “depth” of analysis is little more than a circle-jerk, unlikely to escape the pro-Trump echo chamber.

The art of the unforced error is not limited to His Orangeness. Proving, yet again, that she’s way too big a fan of herself and her newfound notoriety, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promptly sought to flush the sympathy she and her cohorts earned from this incident down the toilet. She continues her Godwinesque harangue about the crisis at the southern border, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib played the race card against Pelosi, repeating the “squad’s” previous unforced error (really, you want to call the top person in your own party a racist?). Instead of seizing a golden opportunity to pull folks into their camp, they’re pressing an attack that has served to alienate many and intimidate many in their party into moving leftward, against the grain of the broad populace, and into a weaker position come Election Day. They share a common trait with Trump: double-down rather than back down, never apologize, and always attack.

I don’t buy into the Machiavelli deep-thinker chess-master fantasy (I do believe that Trump has a good instinct for combative politics, though), and I don’t see this tweet as anything “deeper” than a giant cockup on his part, born of the same stream-of-consciousness that has generated some of his other head-scratchers. Yes, he’s got quite a talent for provocation, but it’s reflexive, not calculated, and it has hurt him more than once. Trump may weather this latest gaffe, and might even come out ahead if the Dems overplay the advantage they’ve been handed. Or, it may be a Dean-scream/Dukakis-helmet/Clinton-deplorables moment. The election is a long way off, so it’s foolish to try and predict, and there’ll certainly be new grist for the mill.

What both Trump and the leftist Congresswomen don’t seem to realize is that they’re not competing for the converted. Trump’s loyalists will vote for him no matter what, and Trump’s left-leaning haters will vote against him no matter what. It’s everyone else that matters, and those “everyone else” will have certain options come election day: Vote for Trump, vote for the Democratic candidate, vote for someone else, or stay home. I expect that we have another election of “who’s less horrid,” with the criteria varying widely across the electorate. The grand shame is that things could be so much more amicable, but for all these missteps and errors.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.

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